First Round KOs

By Adam P. Short on March 21, 2012
First Round KOs
Mike Tyson would never ride quite as high as he rode that night in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Here’s a look at some of the most significant early KOs ever to grace the sometimes graceless heavyweight division…

Though fight fans love to complain, in the abstract, about paying fifty dollars for ninety seconds of action, no real boxing fan can ever feel disappointed by a proper first round knockout. Here’s a look at some of the most significant early KOs ever to grace the heavyweight division.

#5 Earnie Shavers vs. Ken Norton

Not, in hindsight, a super-important fight, but it’s important to remember that at the time Norton was still considered a top heavyweight contender after he lost the closest decision of all time to Larry Holmes for the establishment belt after Leon Spinks was stripped for facing Ali in a rematch. Shavers was trying to set up a shot at Larry Holmes’ title after losing to both Ali and Holmes in 1977 and 1978. Holmes annihilated cruiserweight champion Ossie Ocasio later on the same card and was set to face the winner. Norton said in the lead-in to the fight “either I’m going to sleep, or Shavers is going to sleep.”

Ken never got to sing even one note of his lullaby as Shavers punished him to the body and head from the opening bell. It was the first time young referee Mills Lane had been tested in a heavyweight fight by the ultimate decision—how much would he allow the losing fighter to leave in the ring? He chose to give Norton a long rope, and Norton fell and took a count just before Lane would have certainly stopped the contest on a TKO. After the eight-count, Norton was barely able to stand up as Shavers poured in with a searing uppercut that turned out Norton’s lights and got Shavers the clean KO1 his efforts deserved. 

Shavers would put Holmes down in the seventh round of their title fight, but succumb to accumulated punishment in round 11. He would never again challenge for a title, and the moment his star shone the brightest may have been that night in Las Vegas when he knocked out Kenny Norton in the very first round and ended his amazing run as the best heavyweight since Sam Langford never to win a heavyweight title. 

#4 Lennox Lewis vs. Andrew Golota

The history of boxing is replete with low moments, but rock bottom may have been the day Lennox Lewis signed to fight Andrew Golota for Lewis’ WBC title. Boxing could not have needed a quality heavyweight title fight worse: WBA champion Evander Holyfield had most recently defended his title by having his ear bitten off by Mike Tyson. Michael Moorer was the IBF titleholder for reasons no one was ever able to adequately explain, and even the usually lionized lineal title was held by Shannon Briggs, who had won it in an execrable, possibly criminal decision victory over a 46-year-old George Foreman. Lewis himself had just won two bizarre disqualification fights over Oliver “The Shambling Mound” McCall and Henry “The Octopus” Akinwande, 

The challenger in the fight that heavyweight boxing needed to restore its good name happened to be a man known as “The Foul Pole,” a clearly unstable giant named Andrew Golota who was best known for landing the purest below-the-belt combination in the history of the sport—a three-punch symphony of pain that caused him to be ejected from what appeared to be a sure knockout victory over a bloated, unmotivated Riddick Bowe. 

If ever a fight was set up to be a stinker, it was this one—a rangy, cautious boxer against an unpredictable brawler/puncher who would probably choose to land an elbow to the eye socket over landing a jab to the chin. The announcers actually laughed at Joe Cortez’s pleading with the fighters before the opening bell to keep things clean, and Lennox Lewis clearly wasn’t buying it either. He tried a few exploratory jabs before opening up with vicious combinations to Golota’s head. Before the crowd could catch its breath to call for a Golota rally the Foul Pole was in the corner taking punishment from an onrushing Lewis. He lost control of his hands and then his head; Lewis pounded him with punches from every angle as he crumpled to the floor. 

Cortez could have easily stopped the fight as Golota clearly had no idea where he was, but perhaps in an effort to avoid ever having to see boxing lowered to the point of a rematch between these two fighters, he allowed Golota to continue, and continue he did, finding a new corner in which to summarily collapse like a shredded accordion. 

Lewis would go on to restore the heavyweight title to its proper place of glory, notching epoch-making wins over Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, regaining the title after losing it to hapless puncher Hasim Rahman, and retiring with the Patterson belt after a controversial cuts win over 2000’s-era goliath Vitali Klitschko. Boxing still has not fully forgiven Lennox for the corrupt morass from which he emerged, but his knockout of Andrew Golota that night in Atlantic City remains one of the most timely clean knockouts in heavyweight history.

#3 Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks

It would be difficult for a famous fight to involve less controversy—Michael Spinks was the man who had valiantly ended Larry Holmes’ cynical attempt to break Rocky Marciano’s record by ducking every decent fighter in the division, and Mike Tyson was the man that everyone knew was the real heavyweight champion. The meeting was considered a mere formality, but Tyson dispensed with even the most banal of pleasantries. He overwhelmed Spinks from the opening bell with something that cannot even really be called pressure—it was more like a boa constrictor and a cobra attacking at the same time. 

This fight can be described in intimate detail in just a few words. Tyson: jab, left hook, both miss. Tyson:  left hook to the body, lands, left hook to the head, misses. Spinks: Let me push out my left hand, here, uh… Tyson: Enjoy this series of thunderous hooks followed by an elbow to the face.  Frank Cappuccino:  Mike, um, don’t elbow him in the face, that’s illegal. Tyson: Sorry, Frank, how about if I just smack him in the head a couple times, then punch him in the ribcage? Oh, whoops, he fell down. Cappuccino: You OK? Spinks: Uh… Sure. Tyson: I wonder if the lineal title’s ever been exchanged on a left hook, right hook combination. Let’s try it!  Spinks: Wait, is the fight today? Cappuccino: You should stand up before you leave the ring. Michael. Trust me. 

It was a victory everyone expected Tyson to achieve that he achieved in such spectacular fashion that everyone was surprised anyway—the hallmark of Tyson’s remarkable run at the top of the heavyweight division in the 1980s. Tyson would only defend the title successfully two more times before his fateful meeting with Buster Douglas in Tokyo, though one of the two victories would be yet another first-round knockout over fringe contender Carl “The Truth” Williams. Tyson would never ride quite as high as he rode that night in Atlantic City, and Spinks wisely retired with the only blemish on his record coming in the form of a prime Mike Tyson knockout on a night when no one in boxing history could credibly have beaten him. 

#2 Sonny Liston vs. Floyd Patterson

Cus D’Amato may have chuckled the day he learned that the mob had pulled one of their legbreakers into the ring to make a run at Floyd Patterson’s heavyweight title, but by the time the bell rang to start their fight at Comiskey Park in 1962, he must have known that his Floyd had little chance against the apparently indestructible challenger Sonny Liston. Liston’s jab was so dominant that it was accepted as self-evident that Patterson would try to use head movement and footwork to get inside, but once he was there the comparatively slight champion had no advantages to exploit.

Liston took the classical approach, tagging the smaller man with head shots on the way in, then breaking him down with body shots once he was inside. After eating several thudding right hands, Patterson tried to grab onto Sonny’s right arm to stop the onslaught. Liston responded by simply battering Floyd with his free left hand until his opponent’s body wobbled aimlessly into the ropes. After Liston’s final left hook, right hook, left hook combination, there could be no doubt about the outcome as the champion rolled around on the canvas with his head bowed low. He never attempted to get up as Frank Sikora counted away his title.

Patterson’s rematch with Liston would end in another first round knockout, further establishing Liston’s aura of invincibility in the public mind. Then Liston would be unexpectedly stopped by a lightly-regarded boxer-runner named Cassius Clay who would immediately change his name and stake his claim to the title of Greatest of All Time. Patterson himself would fight for the title only one more time in his long career, when November 1965 saw him dominated and stopped in the12th round by one Muhammad Ali.

#1 Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling

Like your fights dripping with history? This one’s nothing major, just Iago vs. Othello, y’all heard of that? A racist, fascist regime called the Nazis built a giant military on the back of a theory that black people (along with most everyone else) were inferior to “pure” Anglo-Saxon specimens like Max Schmeling. Joe Louis lost to Schmeling in Berlin amidst Nazi claims that German scientists had identified some inherent flaw in the black race that prevented black fighters from beating the best Aryan boxers. Hitler used the victory to whip up jingoistic sentiment among the German population and sell his ideas of German manifest destiny. 

Did we mention the entire world was on the brink of plunging into war over Hitler’s megalomaniac fantasies? Joe Louis did his level best to forestall the conflict, proving conclusively that a black man from Detroit can defeat the Black Uhlan of the Rhine. Schmeling inexplicably leaned directly into Louis’ deadly left glove, allowing the Brown Bomber to tag him with short punches at will. By the time Schmeling landed his first tentative right hand lead, his legs were already unsteady, and whenever he tried to move his feet for very long he wound up with his back on the ropes. 

After a barrage of Louis blows left Schmeling hanging onto the ropes for dear life with his left hand, referee Arthur “Young Mike” Donovan, father of legendary offensive lineman Art Donovan, administered Schmeling an eight-count. The pause in the action mostly served to allow Louis to regroup, as he stepped in and landed the most devastating one-two punch in heavyweight history, dropping Schmeling face first to the canvas and beginning a nightmarish sequence in which the German champion repeatedly arose and was immediately knocked back down again by Louis’ swarming punches. 

Joe Louis would go on to become no less than the consensus greatest champion who ever lived. Schmeling would eventually emerge from under the cloud of Nazism and be recognized as a talented and sporting fighter forced by circumstances and history into an unflattering situation, but he would never again achieve the heights of fame granted him by his victory over the great American champion, Joe Louis. His short night in Yankee Stadium remains the gold standard for first round knockouts to which all other early nights can only pale in comparison.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Earnie Shavers -vs- Ken Norton 3/23/79 part 1

Earnie Shavers -vs- Ken Norton 3/23/79 part 2

Lennox Lewis - Andrew Golota 1997 ( opening and full fight 12min )

1988 Michael Spinks V Mike Tyson Full Fight +interviews.Highest Quality

Sonny Liston vs Floyd Patterson I

Sonny Liston vs Floyd Patterson II

Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling II 22-06-1938

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  1. the thresher 01:02pm, 03/23/2012

    Michael Bentt over The Duke was a good one also

  2. the thresher 12:59pm, 03/23/2012

    But Tami Mauriello shook Joe up just before the KO. Tamii could fight some

  3. TEX HASSLER 12:56pm, 03/23/2012

    A prime Earnie Shavers woud have made quick work out of most of today’s heavyweights and so would Sonny Liston. When Liston was asked why it took him 4 seconds longer to KO Patterson in their 2nd fight he said ” Because he improved!” Mr. Short there is nothng short about this fine article you wrote.

  4. Adam P Short 12:03pm, 03/23/2012

    Somewhat disappointed that I didn’t find a Joe Louis fight to include, since he was the king of the first round KO while champ.  His knockout of Tami Mauriello is a great one.

  5. Adam P Short 11:32am, 03/23/2012

    I had a lot of trouble deciding between Quarry/Shavers and Norton/Shavers. 

    As the for Shavers/Ellis, I omitted that one mainly for selfish reasons - I figure I’ll probably want to put that one in an article about One Punch KO’s in the near future.  Shavers’ right uppercut that ended that fight is one of the most devastating of all time.

  6. the thresher 10:51am, 03/23/2012

    Quarry vs Shavers was a ripper

  7. mike schmidt 02:48pm, 03/22/2012

    Fun fun fun article—love it—Earnie is a great guy and how about Shavers vs Jimmy Ellis, Cooney vs Norton, Quarry vs Shavers, Norton vs Bobick for extra heavy quick punchouts

  8. Adam P Short 09:02am, 03/22/2012

    “Golota, on the canvas against Lewis, looked like a terrified horse caught in a barn fire.”

    Wow, I wish I had written that.  So true.  Even after he arose he looked like he really had no idea what was going on.  Disconcerting to watch.

  9. Don from Prov 08:29am, 03/22/2012

    If one couldn’t back Norton up, a long night awaited; however, the biggest punchers…..

    Golota, on the canvas against Lewis, looked like a terrified horse caught in a barn fire.

    I believe that Louis ruined Max’s back for life in that first round: knocked vertebrae into places that they just did not belong.

    Good article—a lot of fun.

  10. Adam P Short 07:36am, 03/22/2012

    Shavers always reminds me of an old story I read about the principle that “a quality must have a vehicle.”  People often talk about how Shavers may have been the hardest puncher in the heavyweight division, but given his limitations his amazing power was about as useful as the speed of the horse in the story - the fastest horse in the world, who unfortunately without fail would stop suddenly, throwing and killing his rider.

  11. Tony Capoocia 07:31am, 03/22/2012

    Haven’t seen the Shavers vs Norton fight in so long…. Still that is a WOW! Shavers had some nasty Power. Too bad he would run out of gas fast.

  12. the thresher 05:43am, 03/22/2012

    And I agree with your rankings as well.

  13. the thresher 05:42am, 03/22/2012

    Brewster vs. Golota and Tua vs. Moorer

  14. the thresher 05:40am, 03/22/2012

    This is a fun read Adam. Keep ‘em coming.

  15. the thresher 05:39am, 03/22/2012

    Rosenblatt over Parker.

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